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While squatters taking over your property might seem like something out of an old Western movie, it’s a very real thing that could happen to you or any other landlord.
Squatters in modern times are less likely to be outlaws trying to steal your property from you and are more likely to be disgruntled tenants or their friends who don’t want to pay to live on your land. That’s right; the tenants that you rent to can become squatters!
While this progression is thankfully not very common, the fact that it is relatively rare makes it an even more difficult situation for landlords to deal with. Most landlords wouldn’t know where to begin if they had a squatter situation.
Would you know how to serve an official eviction notice or whom to call to ensure the squatters are legally removed?
This is all information that you as a landlord need to know to legally protect your property without getting into accidental trouble, and our short guide can help you learn how to evict a squatter.
A Table of Contents for Evicting a Squatter
- What is a Squatter?
- The Damage Caused By Squatters
- How To Evict A Squatter
- Preventing Squatters From The Start
- Be Patient With The Process
Let’s start by defining what a squatter is. There is not a single definition, as squatters can arise from all different types of situations.
A squatter may be:
- Someone who breaks into or enters a vacant property and begins living there
- A tenant who stops paying rent and keeps living on the property
- The roommate or subletter of a property that begins to live in a property past their rental period
- Anyone who believes they have a right to live on a property that is not currently titled to them
When a landlord first notices that a former tenant is overstaying their rental period or that their property is being lived in by unwanted guests, it may be confusing and even tempting to let them stay there for a few weeks in hopes that they will leave on their own.
As tempting as that idea maybe, you should never allow a squatter to remain uncontested on your property. In many states, this is what can ultimately lead the squatter to have squatter’s rights to your property.
If these rights come into fruition, evicting them will be even more difficult, so it’s important to know how to remove squatters efficiently.
Squatters do more than just occupy your property. These unwanted visitors can cause a lot of other grief and damage to your business:
- An eviction process can take months or even years and is very expensive.
- You will lose out on rent.
- The property can (and likely will) be damaged.
- Valuables held at the property can be stolen.
- Utilities & other bills can pile up and put additional debt on the property.
- The longer you go without contacting them about leaving, the stronger their case is to stay.
As you can see, allowing squatters to remain on your property is not an option, and you should act swiftly.
Now that you know more about squatters and the damage that they can cause for your rental business, it’s time to learn how to remove squatters.
Note: The eviction process and how squatting is defined varies by city, region, and state. Always check your local laws before proceeding with any specific course of action. In most cases, the trespassers must be claiming residency via utilities or bills coming to the home in their name to be considered squatters. Squatting is a civil matter.
The process of evicting a squatter generally goes something like this:
- Call the police immediately.
When you find someone on your property, call the police. They can determine if the person is a trespasser or a squatter. If they are a trespasser, the police will consider it a criminal issue and remove them. If they are a squatter, you will need to move on to civil court.
- Serve an eviction notice.
Serve the squatter with an eviction notice. Be sure to follow any local requirements about the information that must be included in the eviction notice. If the squatter leaves, you’re good to go. If not, move on to step 3.
- File a lawsuit.
If the squatter does not leave after being served, it’s time to file a civil lawsuit for their illegal use of your property. Check your state and local laws for details on which court you need to file with and what type of information you will need to present. You will have to attend an eviction court hearing.
- Have the squatter removed.
Once you win your case, you may still need to have the squatter removed. Once you have a final court decision, you can present this to local police to have the squatter legally removed. You may need to pay a fee.
- Handle any belongings left behind.
When dealing with squatters, you will often be faced with left behind property. While it may be tempting to immediately dump or sell the items, you may not be legally allowed to do so.
No matter what you do, make sure that you follow the local laws when dealing with squatters. Never use force or threats against the squatters even though it might be tempting to try to handle the situation yourself. Rely on the local government to help you get your property back.
Squatters most often become a problem when unreliable tenants overstay their welcome or invite others to do so.
The best way to prevent squatters from ever becoming an issue on your rental properties is to choose great tenants from the get-go.
Great tenants will not only occupy your rental for a longer period of time, but they will also pay rent on time while also respecting your property.
But how do you choose great tenants?
Choosing Great Tenants
This is a problem that many landlords face. They don’t know how to choose the best tenants for their properties!
When reviewing rental applications, every tenant can begin to feel familiar, and it can be difficult to differentiate great potential tenants from risky ones.
For a thorough lesson about how to choose great tenants, check out this article which includes step-by-step information on selection methods.
For now, these quick tips should help you to choose better tenants every single time:
- Call references to confirm your gut feeling about a tenant.
- Verify both employment and income.
- Check national databases for eviction history.
- Consider both credit score and background checks when reviewing tenants.
- Be clear about your property rules & go over the rules with the tenant.
If you find it difficult to wade through the waters of tenant selection, it might be time to hire a tenant screening service to make the process more efficient. Putting in additional money to find the perfect tenant is worth it for the long-term profit improvement you will see at your property.
There’s no way to sugar coat it. If you are dealing with squatters on your property and have to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to get rid of them, it is likely going to be a lengthy process to see them removed.
Still, you need to stick with the system:
- Write up an eviction notice for squatters, and serve it rapidly.
- Do not try to remove the squatters yourself.
- File reports with local courts and law enforcement.
- Have patience with the process.
The only way to deal with illegal squatters is legally, and if you follow these steps, you’ll have your property back as soon as possible.